"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Friday, October 30, 2009

Professors and Students Rally, March, and Protest in the Street

The teachers, students, press, and members of the public met in San Diego's Balboa Park on Thursday, to rally together to protest California's brutal budget cuts to education. Representing every teachers' and educators' union in San Diego County, they came together as one to make their voices heard.

When Southwestern College's union president, Phil Lopez, came up to speak to the crowd (that's him at the microphone), the faculty that was present joined him. "We're in this together," he told them. Because of the recent actions at the college (as written about on this blog, and now in many other places), the rally received them well.

Professors spoke, some with tears in their eyes, about the effects the slashed budget had on their schools, their classes, and their students. It goes without saying that none of it was positive.

After an hour or so, the educators and their students left Balboa Park, marching into downtown San Diego to the Federal Building - where Governor Schwarzenegger has his local office.

The marchers were boisterous and jubilant, inviting passersby to join them. At San Diego's City College, and one of the local high schools, some students did. Many professionals who watched them pass applauded and cheered them.
At the Federal Building, the marchers sat down in the street. They explained to those watching that if the cuts continue, then the students will be learning like that - in the street, teaching each other - with no buildings, no classrooms, no classes, and no one to teach them.

Member of the press crowded around to get photos, film, and interviews with the protestors:

No one came out of the Federal Building to speak with them. I doubt anyone expected them to. But the point was made to everyone watching, to everyone who saw it on the news, and to everyone who would hear about it on the radio, or read about it:
California is in fiscal crisis, yes, but the communities simply cannot balance the budget on the backs of the students. An under-educated generation is a generation allowed to fail.

These are teachers. Failure isn't what they're here for.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Southwestern College's Suspended Professors Receive Media & Press Attention (And It's Positive!)

So…after a few days of keeping this post at the top of the page, I decided to go ahead and update. Nothing had changed yet, and nothing likely will at least until after the rally tomorrow. But the pro-faculty movement is making great strides.

Local press that is notoriously… anti-faculty (and anti-education) has begun to weigh in – and are giving this a fair look. Oddly enough, local television has been a boon to the Southwestern College faculty – the exposure is growing much more through TV than through print.

The really good news comes from online, and from publications that focus on educators, schools and colleges, education, and faculty and students’ rights. This is getting major play on their sites – and these are the publications that Those Who Oversee Education in the country read. The Chronicle of Higher Education, generally regarded as the Wall Street Journal of education has weighed in, as has Inside Higher Ed, a vastly-influential news organ that took immediate interest. I’m not going to name everyone who’s done so, since you’ll find the links below.

Go to them, read them, and comment there - they would like to know what you have to say. Feel free to leave a comment here if you know of anyone I’ve missed – and I’m certain I have. Lastly, If anyone reading this knows any other media organization – whether it be television, print, radio, or online – please contact them and let them know. Let’s keep pushing this out there; the more light shines on this, the less chance that President Raj Chopra and the Board will have to hide.

And, hey! Remember, I'm not an educator or a professor. I'm not a student at Southwestern College. I'm not employed there in any way. So, the place you want to go if you want the most information is here: Save Our SWC. While you're at it, follow that blog on Twitter at @saveourswc.

KPBS (San Diego Public Radio/Televison) [print only]: "Four Southwestern College Professors Suspended."

San Diego Union-Tribune (daily): "4 Faculty at College Suspended After Rally."

Center for Campus Free Speech: "Suspended for Walking Across Campus?"

Confessions of a College Dean (from the blogs at Inside Higher Ed): "Power 101." (A college adminstrator gives his thoughts on the actions of Dr. Raj Chopra.)

Dissent the Blog: "Curious Suspensions." (Contains much on the history of the administration's troubles at Southwestern College.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE): "Community College in California Suspends Four Professors Without Explanation Following Peaceful Protest." (Notes that FIRE is beginning an investigation into this.)

Minding the Campus: "Free Speech Woes." (SWC is included with several schools having this same problem.)

The New Faculty Majority also weighed in, posting my original post (same link as in first paragraph) - along with the note that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) had taken an interest in this case.

Some of these articles and posts - along with mine - have been picked up by many news, education, and business sites: All Business, More About Education, and NewsOnFeeds.com, to name only the first three I found on Google.

Don't forget to visit Save Our SWC for the most current information. They've got a Facebook page as well. They'd love it if you'd connect with them there.
UPDATE (November 3): For updated links to more media coverage, I've added this post.

Multi-School Rally at Balboa Park!

On Thursday afternoon, I’m going to join the faculty of several different colleges at a protest rally at Balboa Park in downtown San Diego. Of course, the goal is protesting ongoing budget cuts to California's educational institutions. If things go as they should, the rally should culminate with a march to the governor’s office. Assuming we can get all these teaching types to go in one direction, it just might work.

This event is sponsored by (and I’m taking this directly from the flyer): American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931, San Diego Education Association, BEAT, City College ASG, Save Our Schools, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, University of California AFT, UPTE, Southwestern College Education Association CCA/CTA/NEA, the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and Palomar Faculty Federation AFT Local 6161.

Students and the public are encouraged and asked to attend. If you want to know more, call 619-640-1155.

Edit - Added the second to last line - about the public and students.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Southwestern College Students Protest Class Cuts (And What the Administration Did Afterward)

On Thursday, October 22, students at Southwestern College in Chula Vista chose to protest against the unilateral actions of the school president and its Board. The protest was civil and held in the fifty yard-by-fifty yard zone that the school calls its "Free Speech Area."

It should also be noted that the Free Speech Area is hidden away between several buildings and is invisible to any road, parking lot, or driveway that surrounds the campus. To a member of the voting public - such as myself - who showed up to watch the students, it was difficult to find. I, like others, had to park and wander the campus until we found it.

For the last Board meeting, President Chopra refused to move the venue from the tiny room it usually used to the auditorium it regularly uses when it expects a big crowd. He knew that students, professors, members of the public, and the press were coming to express their displeasure at his budget-slashing plans, so more than one hundred people – like me – stood outside and listened to the meeting on little speakers, while police guarded the doors. So it comes as no surprise that he is using locational tactics to try to suppress his opposition again.

The students had one hour to express their disgust and displeasure, and to try to rally support among their peers. They used it. And, at the end, they decided to march across campus to the president's office to be heard. Campus police intervened, and after a reminder that they had no rights at all on the campus, the students decided to do this again, and they dispersed.

President Raj Chopra's reaction? He suspended four professors, including the head of the faculty union, a man who has stood against him time and again, while always standing up for his fellow instructors. I suspect he was suspended last night more for that than for anything the students did yesterday.

A Very Brief History

The Administration's Story -- Faced with California's looming fiscal crisis, President Chopra formed a committee of faculty and administration to decide on budget-saving measures. Eventually it became clear that the only way to maintain operations was to cut classes. That would keep any instructor from being laid off, and wouldn't effect the students much at all.

The Truth -- The President formed a committee. Ostensibly scheduled by the admin, it never met until the very day of the most recent board meeting (one week ago). Absolutely nothing was decided, except for the admin representatives to let the faculty reps know what was going down. Many cost-saving measures were floated: cutting the maximum number of students in classes, instructors taking pay cuts, instructors taking unpaid furlough days, laying off unnecessary administrators, cutting athletics, and utilizing the school's "reserve funds."

Southwestern College has several million dollars in its reserve fund - also known as its "rainy-day fund." Over the past few years, the reserve fund has increased to 7% of its holdings. In other words, the school has made a profit the past few years. The State of California says that all colleges should have a reserve, but the amount they recommend is "not more than 5%."

That two percent overage in the rainy-day surplus equals about two million dollars. The budget shortage? An estimated $1.3 to $1.7 million. The overage in the surplus could sate the budget issues for the time, but the Board doesn't want to give up on that banked profit.

Furthermore, during the last Board meeting, the one member who puts students, faculty, and the South Bay area first - Nick Aguilar - put a motion on the table. It was not to stop the slashing of classes, but simply to consider some of these other options. The Board refused to even consider anything but slashing classes (which means laying off instructors). When it was pointed out that they actually would lose about fifty percent of their adjunct (non-full time) professors, one member - Maria Valledolid - responded, 'those are adjuncts, so it's not layoffs.'

President Chopra's proposal for budget-cutting involves slashing about 25% of all classes that SWC offers. Thousands of students attend school, and most of them realize that their schedule will be affected. Professors will be laid off. Classes will not be offered. Some students will not be able to graduate! But that fat 7% profit hidden away remains safe. This is what led them to protest.

Unilateral actions are never popular, and almost never warranted. These anti-faculty and anti-student decisions by Dr. Chopra are symptomatic of a weak leader and a rubber-stamping board.

Raj Chopra is a coward; he was off the campus for all this. He sent police to the four professors' home with letters informing them that they had been suspended (and how much did that cost taxpayers, Raj?). He insists that students hide their protests where the public can't see them. He hides the actions of himself and his Board in the tiniest room possible.

Sure, the students will suffer. Sure, the faculty will suffer. Sure, the reputation of the school will be irreparably damaged. Sure, the city of Chula Vista, and the South Bay area will suffer. But, hey! We'll have that profit banked, and that's apparently all that matters.

For more information on this, go to the Save Our Southwestern College blog at http://www.saveourswc.blogspot.com/. If you’re in Chula Vista/South Bay/San Diego, please follow @saveourswc for more updates.

It also appears that this is finally getting some attention from the local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (which is solidly in Raj’s pocket): http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/23/bn23college-instructors-suspended/?dsq=20886274#comment-20886274

(Photo credits - me with the cell phone)

Edited to add the last two paragraphs, and to tweak the bit on the location of the last Board meeting.

UPDATE: It appears that the Union-Tribune has decided to take a slightly more even-handed look at this situation. This story, updated early this morning, finally begins to dig into the issues: http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/24/4-faculty-college-suspended-after-rally/?education&zIndex=188347

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Short Story in the Annex!

Finally having a couple of days to write has been good. In the Annex, I've posted my first-ever "Heroes..." short story, "Melbourn's Storm."

Please feel free to check it out. As always, any feedback my kindly readers have to offer would be most graciously appreciated.

This is basically a first-draft with minimal editing, so be kind.

"Melbourn's Storm"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When Manners Met Grace (A Question of Culture)

Though it was a requirement of this last census job to have - and be able to use a car, I found myself using mass transit as much as possible. By and large, the mass transit system in greater San Diego doesn't entirely suck. The light-rail trolleys are pretty cool. The buses run very early to very late, some of the routes actually make sense, and for the most part the drivers run on time...

...Except for some Chula Vista-based jackasses who roar through stops about 5 minutes early. I'm looking at you, Route 712 guy. (I've called and complained several times. To their credit, all the dispatchers but one were pretty horrified by this. The other - clueless - one said, "well, at least he wasn't late!" No, he wasn't late, moron, he was too early for me to catch. Here's a quarter; buy a clue.)

I did a week of training and a week of prep in San Diego, with no fieldwork. I used the bus and trolley then. Because of the insanely talented crew I had, our fieldwork lasted a short period, and I went from "in the field" to mostly "in the office." Several of those days I came in by trolley and bus. I'd guess that about 40% of the back-and-forth travel I did was via mass transit.

I learned something that bothered me. I'm going to talk about it, even though I am certain I will be labeled a racist, or narrow-minded, or somesuch. I've thought about it, and frankly, this time....I don't care.

My trolley stop was only three stops away from the U.S.-Mexico border stop at San Ysidro. At any point in the morning, by the time I got on, most of the seats were taken, most of the cars were full, and people were straphanging and leaning on the bars. This doesn't phase me; I've ridden buses in most cities I've lived in. I've hanged on straps with the best and worst of them. But here, the worst of them seem to be in the seats.

As a Southern man, I was taught a few of the most important things in life: always say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am"; hold the door open for others; don't cuss in church; and give up your seats to those who need it more than you.

This last one clearly isn't taught around here. Every morning I watched in disgust as young or middle-aged men sat in the trolley or bus seats, listening to their iPods, reading, texting, talking, or just staring ahead, while older women had to stand. I watched daily as hale-and-hearty guys of all ages rode in relative comfort while women balanced grocery bags, children, and schoolbags fought to keep their balance.

It should go without saying that I never once kept my seat if someone else needed it. On reflection, I realized that I'd actually ridden into town only once. Each other time I'd stood up the entire way - which isn't all that far.

Do I need spell out that almost all these women were Hispanic? Should I continue with the fact that most of the men too lazy to stand for them were also Hispanic? I will. I will also admit that there are a very few Hispanic men who will offer their seats to women - and all of them appear to be in their teens or early 20's.

The inaction of these men disgusts me; I won't deny it. Is this a cultural thing; is it expected that Hispanic men will sit while their women are forced to ride on their feet? Or is this a local San Diego-Tijuana concept?

I gave up my seat numerous times. Only once I can recall was it to a Caucasian woman, and only once to an African-American. In both cases, both ladies thanked me for the courtesy. Every other time - somewhere between 20 and 30 times - I gave up my seat to a Hispanic woman, usually older than me. Only once was I thanked. Two or three times I received a nod of appreciation, but that was it.

Is this a base lack of gratitude, a lack of understanding, or simply a self-centered belief that I should get out of their seat? I swear I don't know. Logically, it doesn't make sense, and trying to figure it out confuses and annoys me.

But late last week, when I witnessed something I'd never seen out here, I felt an actual true-life paradigm shift.

The Route 712 had run through about 5 minutes early again, so I caught a bus on an adjacent street. It would get me to a different trolley station later than I needed to be, but it beat waiting another 20 minutes for the next bus.

This one wasn't quite full, and I ended up riding for a few stops, until a lady in a motorized wheelchair got on board. They take up quite a bit of room, and those folks at the front of the bus moved toward the back. I hopped up to let someone else have my seat. Just a couple rows in front of me, a very young African-American boy was riding alone - clearly on his way to school. I guessed him to be 11, maybe 12 years old.

A few more stops, and the seats were finally full. At the next stop, a woman got on board. Yes, she was Hispanic, and she was probably around my age. She was also clearly in excellent shape, youthful-seeming, and was carrying nothing except her purse. Full of energy, she bounded up onto the bus, and grabbed the nearest strap - near the young boy. He looked up, grabbed his bookbag and backpack, and jumped out of the seat.

"Sit here, ma'am," he told the woman - and that is a quote. She looked at him, looked around, and began to demur. Clearly she didn't need the seat. She was probably healthier than anyone else on the bus, and was holding only that little clutch purse. He had bags dangling off his arms and couldn't even reach the strap.

The bus started to move. She looked up, past me at someone behind me. She then looked at me, and then glanced down at the boy - still waiting.

"Go ahead, ma'am," he said, offering his seat again.

She smiled at him; one of the warmest smiles I'd ever seen.

"Thank you, sir," she said - again I'm quoting. She nodded to him and slid into the seat. He grabbed the bar on the back of the seat, and still clutching his bookbag and backpack, rode standing up to his stop - so she could ride.

It was one of the most genuine moments of courtesy and manners I'd ever witnessed, and it was matched by an act of true grace. I do not exaggerate when I say it was the high point of my day, possibly my week. It's rare to see someone that young be that gentlemanly, a reflection of the man he is certainly going to grown into. I'd like to meet that young man's parents, and I'd like to shake their hands.

And her? Her moment of grace in the face of what could be seen as an absurd action from a wide-eyed young boy only illuminates the gulf that separates types of behavior. With her words, her acceptance of his offer, she reminded him that what he did was right. It couldn't have been handled better. I suspect that if she has children of her own, then they are the very ones who do stand and offer their seats to others; I suspect that she has brought them up right.

That afternoon, when I gave my seat up to a surly woman who never so much as nodded a 'thank-you' in my direction, I thought about that graceful lady and that young man - at that moment when manners met grace. I smiled at the woman who didn't thank me and took my station standing up.

As long as I ride, I'll continue to do this. Whether my offer is appreciated doesn't matter. It's not the point. The point is to make the offer, to do the thing that we know is correct. Where it took watching a pre-teen make a stand for courtesy to remind me of this, maybe my act of common courtesy will sink into one of these others. Maybe a little bit of apathy will blow away, and maybe he'll stand and offer his seat to another.

And maybe not. I'm not here to change anyone else, but I'll be damned before I'll let it change me. I'll stand, thanks.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping...

Okay, I admit it's more than a bit hackneyed to use a line from a overplayed 70's radio hit as one's blog-post title, but that's about all I could muster up this time.

To quote myself: "Oh. My. God. I'm tired." This particular census operation has proved to be mentally draining and even physically a bit brutal. In the past week, I've fallen asleep on the couch, while in the middle of a conversation with my girl; on my 'perch' on the porch - where I try to write, blog, tweet (or - shameless admission: play vast amounts of online RPGs if the muse - that bitch - hasn't struck me); and, last night, in the living room floor while playing with the dog.

I sound pathetic, I sound weak, and yes, I sound old.

I discovered about half an hour ago that it has been a week since I'd even glanced at this thing. I slept in today, and I'm still tired enough that I still haven't quite seemed to grasp the absence of it. Hm. Bad sentence, that. In other words I wasn't even aware that I'd missed it, because I didn't realize that I hadn't been there.

Still not much better. Oh, well. That's about the speed my cortex is functioning at.

I've missed two meetings of my writers' group because of this operation; I simply don't have the energy to consider driving into the North County right now. Frankly, I'm afraid of passing out while driving. As both the dog and my girl know...it could happen.

As of the end of the past month, I also missed a chance to submit my short story, A Chilling Wind (shamless plug - the link is here) to the "Writers of the Future" contest. I'd decided it was good enough to submit something for the first time, but now I'm going to have to wait several months to try again.

On the other hand, I've decided to step back and do a "reconceptualization" of The Wyrd Magnet - which might start showing up in a month or two. I've also worked out some of the kinks of another previously-mentioned short story, "Shooting Pool." And I've come up with something quite out there - something unlike anything else I've ever written. It's called "Dead Beld," and I'm feeling pretty strong about it. Tonight, I'm going to start working on it.

No, I haven't forgotten about Heroes... It's my pride and joy, but right now, my brain needs an injection of something else. I've decided to give it that.

Yes, my time seems to be slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, but at least it seems to me that it's not going away quietly.

Later, y'all.